Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Over the weekend I saw Philadanco at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park.

The program was eclectic -- a modern piece using a table as a shared prop -- a James Brown mix -- a lovely balletic piece -- and a dance set to electronica.

The dancers were marvelous and the choreography consistently engaging.  The funk dancing looked so fun, and I imagine the dancers had a great time. The balletic piece, "Between the Lines" was beautiful.

The weather was lovely, and the audience seemed very happy, which complemented the energy on stage.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Good Wife

I just finished a marathon binge of all 7 seasons of The Good Wife.
At first I thought this show was a standard and not even top-notch procedural. Each episode features a case that wraps up. Not as good as classic Law and Orders.... But as I continued watching and the characters developed I became hooked.

The show starts with Alicia's husband Peter resigning at Cook County State's attorney because of a sex scandal with prostitutes. Alicia is the political wife standing by her husband's side. He is being indicted for corruption and she returns to a legal career after a 13 year absence during which she was raising her children in a posh suburb. The drama concerns the relationships and intrigues between members of the firm, politicians, competing law firms, and some significant clients. The series has many long form narrative arcs, and the character development over the years is quite intense.

The main characters, besides Alicia and her husband Peter, are Will Gardner and Diane Lockhart (partners at the firm Alicia joins as junior associate), Cary Agos (another junior associate, competing with Alicia), Eli Gold (devoted political consultant), Kalinda (mysterious and sexy investigator). There are many significant returning tertiary characters as well (Lemond Bishop, Canning, etc). Cary, Eli, and Diane were my favorites, followed by Marissa (Eli's daughter) and Alicia.

A central narrative element is the romantic relationship between Alicia and her old flame turned boss, Will Gardner. Their comraderie and chemistry are pretty wonderful. One of the overall themes is the tension between love/happiness and responsibility. Another theme is the tension between right/truth and the law/pragmatics.

Alicia is played by Julianna Margulies who is stony and controlled. At first I found her offputting but as the series moves on you see her struggle and learn and grow, as she fights with her own internal conflicts and learns to stand up for her clients, her principles, and her place in the world. The scenes where she breaks down are truly amazing. In these short flashes she expresses deep grief, despair, and rage. By the end of the series she is gaunt and chiseled. An exhausted survivor. Julianna Marguelies delivered an exciting, constrained, and powerful performance episode after episode.

Throughout the series there are intrigues between Diane, Will, Cary, Alicia, and David Lee -- who is allied with whom in what particular take over of power in the firm. After a while I found these turn-arounds and paranoias and miscommunications and betrayals very annoying. Particularly since a deep appreciation and bond seemed to develop between Alicia, Cary, and Diane, and it didn't make sense that they continued to mistrust each other. It seemed like distracting plot elements that were already worn thin.  I also found Jason, the investigator introduced in the final season, to be another annoying distraction. I didn't buy his character at all and thought he was manufactured as a plot device. I inwardly rolled my eyes every time he came on screen.

I was invested in so many of the characters. Very much wanted to give Eli Gold and Cary Agos at many moments. Eli, Cary, and Grace (Alicia's daughter) seemed to me to be the heart at the center of the show, consistently exuding a subtle warmth in their performances.

I read that they are considering a spinoff series. Not a great idea, of course. But if they do, I would love to see it with Cary as the star, now a law professor, and with Marissa as a law student.

Not My Father's Son

Not My Father's Son is a memoir by the wonderful actor Alan Cumming. He was invited to participate in a reality show that traces a celebrities roots, and in his case it was going to research the life and mysterious death of his maternal grandfather. At the same time, he learns that he may not be his father's biological son. These two events prompt him to recall his childhood and the extreme physical and emotional abuse from his father that terrorized and traumatized him and his brother.

The story is interesting, but the writing was not good enough. Cumming kept attempting to build suspense and would over describe the series of intense emotions he went through during the period of filming the show. This became distracting.

Even if the writing were more elegant, I don't know if there's enough here for a whole book. A long, well-structured magazine article would be perfect.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Holidays on Ice

I love David Sedaris. Holidays on Ice is a collection of his holiday-related fiction and essays, a number of which I have read before.

I was not that into the fictional pieces, but I loved the essays. "SantaLand Diaries" is a classic about the time he spent working as an elf in Macy's Santa environment. "Dinah, the Christmas Whore" is great. When I first read "Jesus Shaves" I was on the floor laughing, and it's still great on a second read, as is "Six to Eight Black Men".

Fiddler on the Roof

It was such a treat to see the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof last week!

I remember loving the movie version as a kid, and we had the stage soundtrack so I listened to the music all the time. I had also seen a couple of productions at summer camp, I think. So I was very familiar with the material.

The current version really brought me back. It was a double whammy of nostalgia, because Fiddler itself is steeped in nostalgia. As Tevye's traditional ways of life in a Russian shtetl begin to disintegrate he is nostalgic for the past; it is also infused with the nostalgia of the original writers, for the lost cohesion of Jewish communities both from violent pogroms and the ultimately devastating Holocaust.

It was amazing to me how perfectly I remembered the music. I had to stop myself from singing along. The sentimental show is strong because of the narrative economy (a lot happens in each scene), the singular iconic character of Tevye, the simple and contagious musical numbers, and the combination of sorrow and joy that fuels it. I was particularly roused by the dancing, particularly moved by the Chavala song, and chilled when the family disperses, especially when Tzeitl states that she and her husband and baby are going to Poland.


Blackbird is an intense drama starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams. I saw it on its final weekend on Broadway. Michelle Williams plays a woman who confronts the man with whom she had an affair 15 years ago. When she was 12 and he was 40.

The drama is taught and emotionally exhausting. The two actors are trapped in a nondescript office break room revisiting a past that has haunted them both. Williams is frail and wild, angry and vulnerable. Daniels is shut down and defeated, and also angry.

Blackbird is multi-layered, as we slowly learn that Williams is not simply angry at her abuser, she is furious at the lover who abandoned her. She carries a complicated wound, and it seems her physical fibers are defined by betrayal and loss.

90 minutes, no intermission, this drama maintains a high pitch throughout. The final scenes -- when Daniels' step-daughter enters -- are so wrenching, and the final moment devastating. The audience, deathly quiet throughout, immediately stood up in a standing ovation.

Get Shorty

Get Shorty totally holds up! I loved it when it came out in 1995, and it is just as fun now. It stars John Travolta as a movie-loving Miami mobster who comes to LA for work and tries to get involved in the film industry. The convergence of mobsters and producers and celebrities is funny, and the plot twists enjoyable. The performances are great. Travolta at his finest!

Gentleman's Agreement

Gentleman's Agreement is a 1947 movie starring Gregory Peck. He plays a reporter who decides to pretend to be Jewish in order to write an expose on anti-semitism. It shows the impact on his professional and personal life as he begins to realize the extent of the prejudice.

I'm sure it was a big deal in 1947, but I didn't think it held up. The characters were pretty good, but there just wasn't much depth or enough tension.


I hated the HBO movie, Confirmation, based on the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Although it's possibly informative for people too young to remember these events, there is no new information or perspective, and there is not enough context. I thought they tried to hard to milk drama out of it, conflict behind the scenes in the senate etc. There were many long shots of the characters intended to convey inner conflict that I just thought were corny and empty.


I enjoyed Melissa McCarthy's performance in St Vincent so much that when I saw the spoof, Spy, was streamable, I gave it try. I don't usually like either broad comedies or spy movies, so I didn't think this would be up my ally.

Surprise, surprise! I had a great time watching it! The plot was very engaging, the performances good humored and smooth (a great cast), and there were enough funny bits that worked that I have to say I really liked it. I was afraid it would be a stream of fat jokes, but it wasn't, although there was a lot of physical humor that relied at least in part of McCarthy's appearance.

Melissa McCarthy plays a dowdy CIA worker who remotely works with Jude Law, the sleek and fancy international operative. When he is taken down, she goes into the field and hilarity ensues!

St. Vincent

I can't help it, I loved St. Vincent. It's sentimental and predictable, but it's part of a genre I love -- the unlikely friendship between a jaded grouch and a lonely little boy (Bad Santa, About a Boy, Up, etc). Also, it stars Bill Murray, so it can't go wrong.

Bill Murray plays a bitter, broke, grouchy Vietnam vet who's only social contact is a Russian hooker (Naomi Watts), until a recently divorced woman (Melissa McCarthy) moves in with her ten year old geeky son. Soon an arrangement is made for Bill Murray to look after the kid after school for a few hours each day.

Melissa McCarthy was so wonderful as the vulnerable and stressed newly single mom. Naomi Watts was great as Murray's companion. The dialogue was crisp and witty and the growing bond between the boy and Bill Murray, although not a surprise, was sweet and endearing.

The ending was a bit over-the-top corny, but it did the trick and I cried.

The Witch

Months ago I saw The Witch in a movie theater. I had read a NY Times review that made it sound fascinating and creepy. It's about a family in presumably colonial America that has been banished from the town for religious reasons, and lives in isolation in the wilderness. They have deep and rigid religious views. I was drawn to the what The Times wrote about the growing paranoia among family members after their newborn baby disappears. They come to believe there is a witch or evil spirit among them.

Although some of this was interesting to me, mostly it was too slow and kind of empty. I was bored a lot, but also curious, even as it became overwrought. The ending scenes were overly dramatic and I had no emotional investment. Apparently the audience felt the same, because in the ridiculous final scene we all burst out laughing.